Posts by Tag / GAME: Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (2)

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Dragon Quest Gives Me Pause

Is it a thing for some reason that modern Dragon Quest games don’t want the player to be able to pause?

I was surprised in Dragon Quest Builders that opening the menu or suspending the game (at least on PS4) didn’t pause the game. This would be bizarre in any offline single-player game mode, but in DQB with a day/night cycle, hunger meter, wandering monsters, and speedrun rewards it’s downright obnoxious. I eventually figured out that the game seemed to pause when I viewed the map, but there was no in-game cue to suggest this.

DQB had some other interface oddities (like having ‘menu’ and ‘interact’ be the same button) so I chalked it up to a generally unpolished UX, but then when I played Dragon Quest XI it also was a jerk about pausing. Opening menus or suspending the game (again, at least on PS4) didn’t stop monsters from wandering around or the day/night cycle from progressing (and though I haven’t tested this, apparently cutscenes will continue while the game is suspended). There isn’t even a map pause with this one.

So… is this just a thing? Dragon Quest hates pausing? Enough to buck convention and popular expectation that any offline game would pause in menus and absolutely when suspended and the player can’t even see that things are happening? Enough to - in multiple games across multiple years - punish players for having actual lives with interruptions? Oh, I just started a cutscene and the dog needs to be let out? Ha ha, that was sure my fault and I deserve to miss the cutscene!

It’s such a weird patch of player-hostile design in otherwise warm and friendly games.

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Promises vs Teasers

So, Chrono Trigger on the SNES had an opening movie that played if you left the game on the title screen. It was sort of a highlight reel cut together in a spoiler-minimizing way, showing impressive moments from throughout the game with enough context for you to tell they were significant events but not enough context to understand that significance. It was a teaser of some of the cool stuff you’d get to do and see if you played the game, and it was a trustworthy promise because you could see it was rendered in-engine, down to including battle menus for a few of the scenes.

I remember revisiting this cinematic repeatedly during my first playthrough, excited every time by new moments where I’d say to myself, “Oh! I did that! I know what that is now!” After playing the game, the movie became a highlight reel of my own adventure.

On the PS1 port, they replaced this opening with a fully-animated anime-style movie that introduces the cast via a mix of scenes that basically happen in the game and ones that totally don’t. This accomplishes a very different goal - it shows the characters and sets the mood, but it doesn’t really promise anything specific about what you’re going to do in the game, and even once you’ve played it it just shows things generally reminiscent of your adventures - the animators didn’t extrapolate what people and events look like the same way each player’s imagination did. While the result is more impressive than the in-engine visuals, I can’t help but feel like something has been lost. It feels like an advertisement rather than a highlight reel. A teaser rather than a promise. So I’m glad that more recent ports use both movies.

These days games don’t really do the whole in-engine versus animated/pre-rendered scenes thing anymore, so it’s less clear what you’re seeing in these kinds of movies. I’m a few hours in to Dragon Quest XI and by coincidence I happened to rewatch the opening movie and partway through I was suddenly saying to myself, “Oh! I did that! I know what that is now!” I realized that this was an old-school Chrono Trigger style highlight reel, and I got excited to continue on the adventure and find out what all the other moments in the opening were about. It was good to have that feeling again.